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Numbers game: 50, 40, 90

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Nicolas Batum says being France's No. 2 option behind guard Tony Parker in the London Olympics was a 'good warm-up' for the No. 2 role he hopes to assume behind Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge this season.Nicolas Batum has some numbers in mind for the 2012-13 season — 50, 40 and 90.

As in shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

“If I get those three, or get close to it, my other numbers should be in good shape, too,” Batum says.

Terry Stotts has some different goals in mind for the Trail Blazers’ starting small forward, who signed a four-year, $46.1-million free-agent contract in the offseason.

“I just want him to improve,” says the first-year Portland coach. “I’m glad he came back. I’m glad he has a good contract. But he’s 23, and he needs to continue to improve. There are a lot of things he does well, but ...”

Stotts then enumerates several areas in which the 6-9, 210-pound native of France can get better as he enters his fifth NBA season.

“Offensively, being a facilitator, a playmaker, whether in pick-and-rolls or post-ups,” Stotts says. “Being a consistent wing runner. Defensively, because he is playing both (small forward) and (shooting guard), he’ll be in position to have a challenge every night. Those are tough positions to play in the NBA. And in general, having more of a leadership role.

“Sometimes after a player signs a big contract, there are expectations that he is going to be a different player from day one. To me, it’s more important he just continue to grow as a player.”

Batum had his best NBA season statistically a year ago, averaging career highs in points (13.9 per game), rebounds (4.6) and steals (0.97) and leading the team in blocked shots (1.02). Batum shot .451 from the field, .391 from 3-point range and .836 from the line. He set a franchise record with nine 3-pointers en route to a career-high 33 points in a game against Denver and registered back-to-back double-doubles in April.

But he was inconsistent, sometimes hardly leaving his imprint on the game or on the stat sheet. Which leads to another goal for this season.

“I know that’s my biggest weakness,” he says. “Since I was playing in France when I was 14 or 15, my coach told me every time, ‘Consistency, consistency.’

“In the NBA, that’s huge. You play so many games. You don’t play once a week. You have to be there every night. It’s going to be even bigger for me this year, I know that.”

For Batum to contribute, say, 18 points and six rebounds and shoot with precision on most nights would be a major boost to the Blazers.

“Coaches love when they know what they’re going to get from night to night,” he says. “The great ones give you a certain level every night that you can count on. That’s going to be part of his growth.”

Can Batum be a great one?

“He has the physical skills to become a great player,” Stotts says. “He’s young and has a long career ahead of him. To say at this stage that he couldn’t be would be a disservice.”

Batum expects to be the No. 2 option on offense for Portland this season behind All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s a role he became used to this summer with the French Olympic team, playing with San Antonio point guard Tony Parker.

“I played with a star, a go-to guy in Tony, like LaMarcus here in Portland,” Batum says. “I’m the No. 2 option, but when T.P. went down (to injury), I was the guy.

“It will be much the same with the Blazers. It was a good warm-up for me. I know I have to step up.”

Batum has grown tired of being asked if he feels pressure trying to live up to the high-priced restricted free-agent deal he signed in July with new Portland general manager Neil Olshey.

“Doesn’t matter what the contract is,” he says. “It’s all the same. You still have to play. What’s the difference?”

Batum concedes his role will be more significant, though.

“Of course it has changed,” he says. “Now I’m one of the vets — still young, but one of the vets on this team. I have to give even more than before. Last year was different, but I’m a cornerstone of this franchise now. I have to be there.

“It’s a challenge. In this league, it’s a major challenge.”

Batum says he signed an offer sheet with Minnesota knowing he would be in good position no matter what happened.

“I chose Minnesota because I knew (Portland) could match,” he says. “I knew those two teams were going to be the best options for me. I wouldn’t have signed with anybody else.

“And I wanted to challenge the Blazers, to see if they really like me or not.”

Those in the Minnesota organization, including general manager David Kahn and coach Rick Adelman, contend Batum would have preferred the Blazers not match the offer. Batum insists that’s not the case, despite public comments he made during the courting process to the contrary.

“It’s not that I wanted to choose Minnesota,” he says. “For me, it was a good situation — good team, great coach. Of course I liked Minnesota. But after I talked to Neil before (the Blazers) matched, I liked the situation in Portland — young team, new coach, a re-start to this franchise. And this franchise has some history.

“The good thing about restricted free agency is, I knew I was going to like either team. That’s the way I thought about it. I knew either way, I was going to be happy.”

With Portland thin in the backcourt, Batum is ticketed for some duty at shooting guard, the position he played for France this summer alongside Parker.

“I’m not saying I’m used to playing the 2, but I’m OK with it,” he says. “I know I can defend the 1 through the 4.”

Batum is hoping the Blazers can surprise the pundits this season.

“People don’t expect us to make the playoffs,” he says. “I can understand that. We have five rookies and the youngest team in the league.

“But we have heart. We’re going to compete. We’ll try to win every game, and we’ll see what happens. We’ll give everything on the court. We’ll compete and have no regrets.”

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